People of a certain age will remember the astonishment and wonder of their first Polaroid…
Click, whirr and wait as a square of plastified paper renders, first, a ghostly outline and then a smiling 1970s face – complete with bad sweaters and basin cut hair.
In truth the quality wasn’t that great. Plus there was that annoying blank raised rectangle at the bottom. Let’s face it, they started out faded; and finished washed out.
But still they were the marvel of their day. Instant photos for the first time in history.
Now photos are everywhere. The biggest user of space on my iPhone, we count them in the 1000s. Not the ones and twos of the Polaroid years.
So why get nostalgic about Polaroids?
Because I’ve been working on mindfulness. And I have realised that, if I try hard enough, I can briefly notice and enjoy the individual snapshots of perception, which make up the endless movie in our heads.
When you start to notice the odd Polaroid in the stream of consciousness, you notice that the overwhelming majority of millisecond freeze-frames don’t get noticed at all.
On reflection, it then becomes possible to see (quite literally) that the flagship memories we carry with us are all just individual, faded and retouched Polaroids – which we’ve put in a mental frame. And they are just the tiniest fraction of the Polaroids we’ve experienced.
So what’s the value of this?
First, it helps to realise that the very worst things that have happened to us – some of which shape our self-image and core identity – are in fact no more than Polaroids in our minds. Look hard for most of them and you can scarcely find them.
And second, all the things we want in life will in their turn become faded Polaroids. Many, if not most, will be lost and forgotten soon after they have been bought, won, tasted or achieved.
This isn’t to argue for detachment or despair. More to make the case for equanimity, and a recognition that the everyday Polaroids are worth attention.
Because the special ones we covet and strive for (or fear and want to forget) are no more real or solid than the myriad Polaroids which will flash by our minds this very day.